As the New Year begins, many look forward to a brighter and more prosperous future that is bright with possibility.
College campuses, particularly predominantly White institutions (PWIs), in the D.C. area are no exception. American University (AU), a private college located in northwest Washington, D.C. with just 7 percent of its student body population classified as Black, has grappled with the problem of racially motivated incidents in 2017 that were directed at Black students.
In September 2016, a Black first-year student had a banana thrown at her in the residence halls by another AU student.
Saba Tshibaka is a student at UMD who says that schools have to make the punishments for racially motivated acts on campus more prevalent to stop them. (Courtesy photo)
“It pains me to know that such an incident is part of her introduction to AU… The hurt and pain that our Black students endure do not stem from this one instance; they are part of the more systemic and institutional issue of racism that pervades the nation and the world,” then-Student Government President Devontae Torriente wrote in an email to the AU undergraduate student body.
Fast-forward to the end of that same school year, bananas hung with nooses were found on AU’s campus on May 1, 2017, the day the first Black woman was sworn in as the Student Government president for the 2017-2018 academic year.
Labeling the incident as a hate crime, AU condemned the racist incident in a statement, saying that it “remains committed to principles of diversity, inclusion, common courtesy, and human dignity, and acts of bigotry only strengthen our resolve. Anyone who does not feel similarly does not belong here.”
But that didn’t stop the discovery of 10 Confederate flag posters with cotton attached to them in late September. The posters were hung throughout campus on bulletin boards. Security footage published by AU showed a White male suspect, disguised as a construction worker, wearing white gloves and carrying what seemed to be a tool case.
“Clearly these issues are getting progressively worse and more violent in the messages they are sending,” said Adina Greenidge, a political science student at AU who identifies as Afro-Latina.
Greenidge, 21, added that the AU administration reacted quicker to racial-related incidents carried out by outsiders in comparison to the incident incited by AU students.
“I think the university needs to treat students the way they treat outsiders when it comes to hate crimes because that’s the only way you’re going to prevent from happening,” Greenidge said.
AU has not released the name of the student who threw a banana at a Black first-year student because that would violate the school’s Student Conduct Code.
Even though Greenidge identifies both as Latina and Black, she identifies as Black first because she is treated as a Black person in America, she said.
“So when there are attacks on the Black community on campus, they do distract me from my work. they do create a lot of anxiety for me on campus as to whether or not I’m going to go to the library and have to deal with passive aggressive remarks from people,” Greenidge added.
But the case at University of Maryland-College Park is much more alarming. In a UMD report released in mid-December, there have been a total of 27 hate and racial bias incidents just within this past fall semester.
UMD is a state university located in Prince George’s County with 12.5 percent of the students identifying as Black and a total of 43.3 percent of minority students, according to the UMD Undergraduate Student Profile.
The documentation of hate and racial incidents at UMD follows the murder of Second Lt. Richard Collins III on UMD’s campus in May. He was a Black Bowie State University student. Collins was visiting UMD during finals examinations when he was allegedly stabbed at a bus stop by White UMD student, Sean Urbanski.
Given the prevalence of racially driven incidents, Saba Tshibaka, a Black UMD student, said that she has become desensitized.
“I feel like having to block out emotion so that I can go to school like a regular student,” she said. Tshibaka, 19, studies computer science and is a native of Maryland.
Similar to AU, nooses were also hung in a UMD fraternity house kitchen in May.
Tshibaka pointed out that while UMD has very strict rules about plagiarism, it does not have clear punishment for hate crime perpetuators.
“I know that if I were to cheat on an exam, I would know exactly what punishment I would get… But for incidents like racism and stuff like that, I don’t know what’s going to happen if they find out… and that bothers me because if people knew they would get in trouble for it, they would not end up doing it,” Tshibaka said.
To survive as a Black student at UMD, Tshibaka said she turns to her inner community. She is involved in a number of clubs and organizations such as Black Honors Caucus, the Black Student Union and others.
“You’re living in a majority-White country, and you’re going to have to deal with these issues everywhere you are. So going to an HBCU, as nice as they are, is not going to stop you from experiencing these things in real life,” Greenidge said.